Trans. Jul 25 12:04 ET (Jul 25 12:04 ET ) With the foundation they've laid for the future of basketball in their country crumbling around them, the final chapter penned by the historic core of Argentina's national team may be its most important.
At the 2002 FIBA World Championships, an Argentine team featuring a 25-year-old Manu Ginobili, 23-year-old Andres Nocioni and 22-year-old Luis Scola handed the U.S. its first post-Dream Team international basketball defeat on the way to a silver medal. A cohesive and complementary bunch, they went on to win 2004 Olympic gold, creating the model to which even Team USA ultimately aspired .
In more than a decade since, basketball's popularity has grown immensely in Argentina, ultimately becoming the nation's second most prominent sport behind only soccer. Throughout, Ginobili, Nocioni and Scola remained, proudly wearing their white and blue jerseys on courts around the globe.
In their mid-30s now, entering what could very well be their last international competition as a trio, they should be leaving behind a legacy that lasts long after they're gone. But the widespread corruption that has poisoned many of the nation's government programs has apparently infected basketball, too.
According to reports translated from Spanish in the San Antonio Express-News and the great Spurs blog Pounding the Rock , the Argentine Basketball Federation has fallen roughly $20 million in debt and has at times forced national team members to train uninsured for free under less than ideal travel conditions.
Complaints from the Argentine players have since resulted in the ousting of ABA head Germán Vaccaro, but doubts about new president Daniel Zanni and the remaining board members reportedly persist.
As a result, Scola declared in a blunt interview with Argentine newspaper Clarín , "The crisis is more important than the World Cup. If I don't play, the horrendous management of the basketball association will be to blame." Soon afterwards, both Ginobili and Nocioni pledged their support on Twitter.
"The captain got angry and I’m great with that," Ginobili wrote . "Well said."
"Embarrassment!" added Nocioni . "I apologize because Argentine basketball does not deserve this!"
As relayed expertly by SB Nation's Jesus Gomez in recent days, that triumvirate's demands of a thorough audit looking into the alleged corruption have gone unanswered, but a meeting between Zanni and the Argentine players on Friday seems to have put an end to a potential World Cup boycott for now.
Scola: "there's not risk of us not playing as long as the things that the Secretary of Sport promised us are delivered. We'll see" — Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
Scola: "we want deep changes in the association. Changing just one name at the top is not enough" — Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
Manu: "the easiest thing for us to do would have been to just play or stay at home. We are getting our hands dirty because we care (1/2) — Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
(2/2) "We are getting muddied by this. But we care about the future. We are on our way out." — Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) July 25, 2014
All these years later, Ginobili, Nocioni and Scola are still laying the groundwork for Argentina basketball.
As for Ginobili's health, he has reportedly been cleared to play following an MRI by the Argentine national team's doctor on Friday, but the Spurs have final say on whether the stress fracture in his right leg is healthy enough for competition. Naturally, Ginobili wants to take the floor, since next month's FIBA Basketball World Cup might be his final opportunity to represent Argentina — on the court, at least.
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Indiana Pacers.
The Miami Heat are good enough to win this year’s championship. They are good enough to beat the Indiana Pacers in six games during the Eastern Conference finals, and they are good enough to do so in one-sided fashion. They are the two-time defending champions, they earned this conference finals win, and the Indiana Pacers did not completely give them a conquest in this year’s third round.
They sure gave them Game 6 on Friday, though. The Pacers showed up woefully unprepared to compete; it was clear from the outset that the Pacers nearly to a man expected Miami to end Indiana’s season on Friday night, and the Pacers showed no interest in falling back on the sort of play that allowed them to race out to an impressive early regular season run during 2013-14, and attack the Heat where it hurt the most.
I am not a Pacers backer, nor do I enjoy falling back on these sorts of angry sportswriter’isms. Indiana, though, should be embarrassed with the way it composed itself both in Game 6 and throughout most of these playoffs. And if you think I’m referring to Lance Stephenson’s various attempts at annoying the defending champs, understand that his handiwork ranks far, far down the list of Where Indiana Went Terribly Wrong.
Looking back on Indiana’s failure (the technical outcome is not a failure, mind you, but the way they worked toward that Conference finals loss was) in the days following the Game 6 defeat in great length is pointless, as you already know the hallmarks. Indiana failed to defend to the sort of standards it had set both last season and earlier this season. Its interest in establishing both good passing angles and quick shots toward the hoop completely dissipated against a Heat defense that could have been taken advantage of. And too often the Pacers were more than happy to let the Heat define the terms of engagement, rather than playing with the same panache that made them Miami’s top combatants from 2012 through earlier this calendar year.
Anyone attempting to get into this team’s head beyond what we saw on the court is in for a fruitless exercise. Outside of perhaps David West, just about every prominent member of the Pacers rotation is to be blamed for abandoning the smart, energetic play that made the team so tough to score on for so long, while creating good enough opportunities on the other end along the way. Whether that is the fault of decaying personal relationships between teammates, an inability to get fired up from the words of coach Frank Vogel, or a result of being burned out by treating games in December like a Game 7 in early June – a month Indiana failed to get to after playing into it during 2013 – that’s anyone’s guess.
For now, what we have to figure out is how to fix the issues behind perhaps the most disappointing top overall seed since George Karl’s Seattle SuperSonics of the early 1990s. Recent Mavericks and Spurs teams may have gone out in the first round in 2007 and 2011, but like Seattle this Indiana crew is an entirely more flammable beast, one that could really make a mess of things should the same roster and coaching staff come to camp next fall.
Seattle stuck with Karl and the team’s top two young players in Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, but they traded angry locker room types like Ricky Pierce (for next to nothing) and Kendall Gill (for a better complementary player in shooter Hersey Hawkins) and were able to grow together until it won 64 games and made the 1996 Finals.
These Pacers? Nobody is lining up to take their Pierces and Gills. In fact, the team’s most tactless tempest in a teapot, one Lance Stephenson, will serve as the tipping point for their entire offseason.
Trades involving a frustrated Hibbert, or (Indiana prays) the lacking George Hill could eventually pop up as the summer creates more and more alternately desperate and giddy trade partners, but for now the entire offseason will key in on the extent in which Stephenson harmed his worth on the free agent market. For the bulk of Lance’s near-All-Star season, it was assumed that the Pacers were going to have to enter an uneasy bidding war for the unrestricted free agent, what with actual All-Stars staying with their incumbent teams, and frustrated clubs turning Stephenson into a potentially overpaid Plan B.
Our Dan Devine already expertly summed up Stephenson’s team’s reaction to his permanence and impermanence with the Pacers . Teammates had tired of his act, which seemed to grow and grow even as more and more attention was focused on it, throughout these playoffs. The team respects his game, but it's also sick of his stuff.
Due to the confines of the roster, though, the Pacers have little room for their own growth, and may have to talk themselves into hoping for the best with Lance. While he sorts out offers, his rather miniscule cap hold makes it so the Pacers can at least engage in trades when the free agency period starts without too much fear of rubbing up against the NBA’s luxury tax.
Should Stephenson stick, the Pacers may have to end up paying that tax next season for the first time in franchise history, an absolute killer for a team that plays in one of the league’s smaller markets, averaging middle of the road attendance (not turnout percentage, just raw numbers) along the way. Luis Scola disappointed greatly in his first season in Indiana, but the Pacers would have to pay him nearly $1 million to go away next year, and then attempt to sign his replacement (or his replacement’s replacement), which could blow up in their face should the potential pickings head to other teams for more money. George, Hibbert and West will all be working on eight-figure contracts, and the team won’t get any help from a first-round pick this season, as it’s already been traded to Phoenix in the deal for Scola.
(I remain steadfast in my defense of that deal, as presented at the time, which saw Indiana sending Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a first-round pick to Phoenix last summer for Scola. The first-round pick addition was a misstep, but Plumlee looked awful even in his short rookie stints last year, and his poor numbers reflected how uneasy he appeared. Green, meanwhile, had basically contributed just six weeks of good basketball in 2012 for New Jersey in the years leading up to the summer of 2013, and there was no reason to think he’d play as well as he did in Phoenix this year. And there was no reason to think Scola – who could pass, shoot, and spell David West – would fall off as he did. A terrible trade in the end, but reasonable – save for that draft pick in exchange for paying Green – at the time.)
Any other team in this predicament would rely on internal development. It would hope that Stephenson and George could grow and add to their games over the summer, Hill less slightly so, and that Hibbert could work his way out of his funk – as he did partway through a disappointing start to the 2012-13 campaign. Any other team would recognize that replacements with Vogel’s smarts and expertise aren’t usually spinning around on the coaching carousal, that David West’s game continues to age well, and that this remains a very young team in spite of its third straight loss to the Heat. After all, the Chicago Bulls ran up the same second- and then third-round losses against Detroit in the years before its title, even one loss with Phil Jackson in charge, and eventually they got it together.
These Pacers are different, though. This team is combustible, and this team has financial concerns, while potentially working its way toward paying four different players eight figures a year, four players in Georg
Luis Scola picked up some extra playing time during Thursday's loss to the Hawks with 20 minutes, scoring 17 points with three boards and no turnovers.
The Scoop:Roy Hibbert was as about as useless as an ejection seat in a helicopter tonight and it allowed Scola to play much of the fourth quarter. Scola came out hot in the fourth quarter, making 5-of-5 to start the frame and finishing 7-of-11 over the entire game. The Pacers are a complete mess and it wouldn't be a shock to see coach Frank Vogel mix things up and move Scola into the starting lineup.
If the Coach of the Year award is so tough to vote for because there are so many deserving candidates, the Most Improved Player award is equally as vexing because the criteria for the award is debatable at best and vague at worst. The hardware usually goes to a performer who jumps from pretty good to great in the span of a season, but not before writers and fans debate endlessly about who should be included in the consideration for the process.
Are second-year players expected to improve, allowed to be in the mix? What about a player who makes the jump from lousy to serviceable – certainly no marquee name, but still making a bigger jump than someone who rounds into an All-Star. What about MVP-level players like Kevin Durant; should they be penalized for starting off at too high a stratum?
That’s why I always fall back on just voting for a literal “most improved player,” whether that be someone like Durant, someone like little-noticed second-year big man Miles Plumlee of Phoenix, or the 2013-14 NBA Most Improved Player, Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic.
Dragic was left off a loaded Western All-Star squad last winter, and his 48-win Suns just missed making a just-as-loaded Western playoff bracket, so in many ways this feels like a tidy reward of sorts for the Slovenian hybrid guard. Dragic, who turns 28 in May, upped his scoring average by 5.6 points per game to 20.8, despite playing just two more minutes in comparison to 2012-13. His assists dropped, as new addition Eric Bledsoe handled some point guard duties, and his rebounding, steal and block rates stayed about the same.
The guard’s turnover percentage somehow dropped significantly in 2013-14, though. And most importantly, Dragic’s shooting numbers spiked considerably – from just under 45 percent in 2012-13 to more than 50 percent this year, and from well below average at 31.8 percent from behind the arc last season to a stellar 40 percent in his award-winning season.
All this from a player who during Wednesday’s award ceremony claimed he “didn’t have the time” to work on his shooting during the 2013 offseason.
This is indeed a comment on the changing Suns culture. The team went through two coaches last season and dumped general manager Lance Blanks after a 25-win campaign. New GM Ryan McDonough waived Michael Beasley, traded role players for a stud in Bledsoe, and earned two starters (Gerald Green, the aforementioned Miles Plumlee) and a first round pick in a deal for Luis Scola. He also hired rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek, who somehow turned what was supposed to be a rebuilding Suns team into a playoff contender, finishing tied for the 11th-best record in the league.
Hornacek described Dragic’s style as “fearless” on Wednesday, and that’s probably the best way to describe one of the NBA’s most entertaining players. Goran’s lefty drives and finishes in the paint (often off the wrong foot) made him a League Pass must-watch, and there’s no doubt the improving Suns will be rewarded with several nationally televised games in 2014-15.
Whether they’ll be rewarded with a playoff berth is anyone’s guess, as that Western Conference depth isn’t going anywhere. Still, behind Hornacek’s second-place finish in the Coach of the Year voting and Dragic’s new hardware, this is a nice holdover after a season that didn’t end how Phoenix had hoped.
Indiana guard Lance Stephenson finished second overall in the voting, Pelicans big man Anthony Davis and Suns teammate Gerald Green nabbed the second-most amount of first-place votes and finished third and fourth respectively, and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan rounded out the top five.
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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
INDIANAPOLIS -- Forward Paul George and the Indiana Pacers answered their doubters on Tuesday night. George scored a game-high 27 points and the Pacers defeated the Atlanta Hawks 101-85 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to tie their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at one game each. Game 3 will be played Thursday night at Atlanta's Phillips Arena. Forward Luis Scola, who did not score a basket in Indiana's 101-93 loss in the series opener on Saturday, came off the bench to supply 20 points.